Movie Review ~ 12 Mighty Orphans

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Haunted by his mysterious past, a devoted high school football coach leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a broken nation along the way.

Stars: Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Jacob Lofland, Levi Dylan, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen

Director: Ty Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: TBD

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Having seen enough sports movies to be able to at least write a small children’s chapter book on which ball goes with which game, I looked at the upcoming 12 Mighty Orphans and felt like pointing at it and saying, “I know what you are and all the cliché tricks you’re going to play”.  Because, after all, there’s not a lot that’s been left unsaid in the case of these football movies about a rag-tag group of misfits that have to band together to rise above adversity.  Plenty of films before it have gone the distance, scored the field goal, made the touchdown, and knocked it out of the park (oops, wrong sport) and while the entertainment might be passable, it was likely going to be fleeting.

Let me tell you that 118 minutes after I began 12 Mighty Orphans, based on Jim Dent’s ‘Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football’, I was the guy sitting in his living room in the dark watching the credits with tears drying on my face.  Yes, this film got me and got me good, and it was for no other reason than it’s a well-made audience pleaser that steers clear of cheap sentiment in favor of heart on the sleeve compassion.  It’s almost shockingly benign and while I’m not sure this approach would have worked with a more modern story, the period-set drama is the perfect playing field for the real-life events to unfold.

Arriving at the Texas Forth Worth Masonic Home for orphans in 1938 with his family, teacher and coach Rusty Rusell (Luke Wilson, The Goldfinch) has an uphill battle creating a team from scratch and gathering enough interest from the boys who’d rather do anything but play an organized sport.  Forge forth he does, with assistance from a wised teacher nursing a not-so-secret fondness for drink (Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone) and his caring wife (Vinessa Shaw, Hocus Pocus) but with a number of roadblocks from crooked employees and, eventually, a local coach that fears Rusty’s “Mighty Mites”. 

There’s a run-of-the-mill playbook for any kind of biographical sports film and director Ty Roberts follows that fairly close for the majority of 12 Mighty Orphans, but along the way he doesn’t forget to coax generous and gallant performances out of Wilson and Sheen, offering both men wonderful opportunities to shine.  Roberts also handles some of the more saccharine turns with a stronger hand, not letting the film go slack as a result – we all know there’s going to be something that knocks things down before the final build-up, but the screenplay from Roberts, Lane Garrison (who co-stars as the Big Bad coach), and Kevin Meyer, doesn’t make that the true climax of the piece. 

A film like 12 Mighty Orphans is one my dad would have loved to see and I’m sorry he’s not around for me to recommend it to him.  Maybe that’s another reason why I was so sad near the end and also why I appreciated the film’s detailed information on where all of the characters we’ve come to know wound up in their lives.  It’s more than just a “Dad” movie though, it’s one that all would be able to enjoy with equal pleasure.

Tribeca: The Return

12 Mighty Orphans
There’s a run-of-the-mill playbook for any kind of biographical sports film and director Ty Roberts follows that fairly closely for the majority of 12 MIGHTY ORPHANS, but along the way he doesn’t forget to coax generous and gallant performances out of Luke Wilson and Martin Sheen, offering both men wonderful opportunities to shine.  Roberts also handles some of the more saccharine turns with a stronger hand, not letting the film go slack as a result – we all know there’s going to be something that knocks things down before the final build-up, but the screenplay from Roberts, Lane Garrison (who co-stars as the Big Bad coach), and Kevin Meyer, doesn’t make that the true climax of the piece.  A film like this is one my dad would have loved to see and I’m sorry he’s not around for me to recommend it to him.  It’s more than just a “Dad” movie though, it’s one that all would be able to enjoy with equal pleasure.

I Carry You With Me
It’s finally starting to feel like we’re moving out of the doldrums of lame, half-hearted attempts at LGBTQ+ romance films and memorable entries like I CARRY YOU WITH ME are examples to refer back to when showing the forward progression of representation in film.  A unique and surprisingly unpredictable film that starts off going in one direction before unveiling its ultimate truth in finality, director Heidi Ewing’s film has a lot of hot button issues to cover and connect with but manages to do it all with a light touch.  How the film starts to shift to something unexpected is small and almost imperceptible.  At first, you aren’t quite sure what’s happening or how a seemingly disparate narrative is relating to our main storyline, but then Ewing and her co-screenwriter Alan Page Arriaga pull a tiny rug out from under you…only to reveal an even larger one underneath they tug away just a few scenes later. 

Peace By Chocolate
Oh, those Canadians are just the best, aren’t they?  The best Hallmark movie filmed in Canada that’s not a Hallmark movie, PEACE BY CHOCOLATE is the enormously pleasing real life story of the Hadad family, Syrian refugees who took shelter in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2016.  Having owned a chocolate factory in their native Syria before it was bombed, head of the family Issam (the wonderful Hatem Ali who sadly passed away in December 2020) begins making chocolate out of their temporary home and, eventually, a small make-shift house on their front lawn.  Meanwhile, son Tareq (Ayham Abou Ammar) desperately wants to see his medical school training in Syria be put to use in Canada/the U.S. but finds himself turned away from opportunities.  Director Jonathan Keijser’s film could not be more Canadian if it tried…and it tries, with accents that are so Northern you may need subtitles and enough Kanuck slang that a reference chart could be useful.  It’s all Sunday afternoon television movie entertaining and so light and charming you can’t begrudge the at times overwhelming syrupy sweetness.  If anything, like chocolate, it’s a great palate cleanser if you need to unwind and check out after a barrage of bad news and stress.

God’s Waiting Room
When you see a lot of movies and then write about them, eventually your mind starts to naturally pick up visual cues and your ear listens for important plot points in every subsequent film you see, almost as a way to proactively start to assemble your review.  That’s not necessarily how the review will turn out, but that’s how my mind works.  For GOD’S WAITING ROOM, every time a structure started to form in my mind, director Tyler Riggs found a way to shake it clean, like an Etch-A-Sketch that needed a fresh start.  That made the experience of watching the film intriguing and allowed more investment in this story of Rosie (Nisalda Gonzalez) and Jules (Matthew Leone) and their tumultuous love affair.  Co-starring Riggs in a role that is never fully defined until later in the film when intentions are all thrown together in a blender, the film has a lot of good going for it.  The biggest asset is certainly Gonzalez’s grounded performance as a young woman on the cusp of finding herself and feeling suffocated by a number of overbearing men.  Leone is good too in his Tribeca-award winning role, though I started to feel it was a bit more rambling without an edit than rumbling with power.  As for Riggs, his time as a model gave him a good eye for the film’s look which is quite strong for its indie roots; it’s frustrating his storyline is markedly weaker and contains a truly unfortunate sex scene that that might be the most awkward one I’ve seen all year.  Keep an eye out for Gonzalez in the future and I’m thinking Leone’s name is another you’ll be hearing as well.

 

Mid-Day Mini ~ Cold in July

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a protective father meets a murderous ex-con, both need to deviate from the path they are on as they soon find themselves entangled in a downwards spiral of lies and violence while having to confront their own inner psyche.

Stars: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici, Wyatt Russell

Director: Jim Mickle

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  The first preview I saw of director Jim Mickle’s adaptation of Joe R. Landsdale’s grim noir novel gave me flashes of Blood Simple, the masterful 1984 debut film of Joel and Ethan Cohen (Inside Llewyn Davis).  With good reason too.  Both films are set in Texas and both have moments of shocking violence that come out of left field.  While Blood Simple would win in any battle royale between the two films, don’t let Cold in July fall off your radar because it’s a seething film with plenty of twists and turns…culminating in a finale that amps up the tension and takes no prisoners.

Mickle is a filmmaker to watch and while I haven’t yet published my review of We Are What We Are, his creepily effective cannibal film from 2013, I can tell you now that he’s batting 1000 in my book.  With Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard (Mud) as two fathers brought together by a murder that turns into something more sinister and Don Johnson (The Other Woman) nearly stealing the show as a man with no scruples the stage is set for a dark crime drama that, though familiar on paper, entertains nonetheless.

The Silver Bullet ~ Come Out and Play

poster-come-out-and-play

Synopsis:  A young married couple are on a holiday together when they venture to a beautiful, but highly remote, island. When they arrive, they notice that while there are plenty of children present, the adults all seem to be missing.

Release Date:  March 22, 2013

Thoughts: Though it looks like a straight-up remake of the messy 80’s creep-fest Children of the Corn, Come Out and Play is actually an update on a 1976 Spanish film.  This sinister looking film has a trailer that gave me the willies…children are scary enough but make them emotion-less psychos and you’ve got a nightmare waiting to happen.  I like that most of this seems to take place in the daylight…it’s so easy to play off of our fears of the dark to scare us so keeping it brightly lit always tells me you are working with a confident production.  Even with so-so actress Vinessa Shaw (Hocus Pocus, Side Effects), this could end up being an effective horror film if done right so here’s hoping that everything falls into place for a nicely done spook out experience.

Movie Review ~ Side Effects

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side_effects

The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman turns to prescription medication as a way of handling her anxiety concerning her husband’s upcoming release from prison

Stars: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Vinessa Shaw

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Lately, the side effects of a Steven Soderbergh film are usually indifference so it doesn’t come as a huge shock that Side Effects follows suit.  In 2012 Oscar winning director Soderbergh released two vastly different pictures.  The first was January’s Haywire, an action showcase for its star Gina Carano and I wound up liking it more than I probably should have.  The second film was the wildly popular and wholly awful Magic Mike (it made my worst of the year list) which may have set tongues a-waggin but left me a-gaggin.  Entering 2013, Soderbergh has delivered another peculiar puff of a movie featuring A-list stars in an agonizingly ordinary script.

Familiarity is the name of the game here with Soderbergh re-teaming with his Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for this iffy thriller with a plot ripped from any number of Law and Order episodes.  Contagion was an interesting film that played well in the moment but disintegrated if you really sat down and thought about it.  With Side Effects, no thinking is required.  There’s nothing original here so your enjoyment of the movie is entirely dependent on how much you like the stars that pass through the glossy world filmed (under his usual pseudonym Peter Andrews) by Soderbergh himself.

Though Tatum receives high billing, he’s more of a supporting player in the story of a psychiatrist (Law) put through the wringer by one of his patients (Mara) as she deals with a depression that remerges when her husband (Tatum) is released from prison after serving time for insider trading.  Yes friends, right off the bat we’re supposed to buy that Tatum is playing a character savvy enough to be a financial crook while living in a luxurious mansion in Greenwich.  Don’t get me wrong, Tatum is a better actor than we all first believed but a high level business executive?  I don’t think so. 

Mara employs the same wild eyed chilly detachment which made her Oscar nominated turn as the title character in 2012’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so successful.  Here, though, that same approach comes off as sleepy…maybe it’s the fact that her eyebrows have grown back.  Though she has an interesting take on the character, she can’t really get to where she needs to be when the film requires it so she winds up as someone running after a train that’s taken off without her.

Ten years ago, Law may have played Tatum’s character but he’s an engaging centerpiece to the trivial plot twists the film employs.  Law plays his role pretty close to the chest for the first hour or so until he must give way to the script and hop in line with his heretofore ethical character suddenly changing his tune.  He’s married to a woman (Shaw, Hocus Pocus) that’s about as loyal as the day is long and soon he’s left to fend for himself against some increasingly unbelievable situations.

The best scenes are probably the scant few between Law and Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages) as a previous therapist of Mara’s character.  The two actors crackle together and Zeta-Jones especially lets every dippy piece of dialogue coo out of her mouth with pleasure.  I especially liked a brief moment outside of a restaurant when Zeta-Jones goes after Law with unusual rage…it’s the most real moment in the whole picture that’s beneath the talents of all involved.

If I’m being deliberately cagey about what kind of film Side Effects breaks down into it’s because even though the plot is beyond also-ran it still is entertaining in a strange way.  It’s pretty much the perfect length and doesn’t overstay its welcome too much, although you may be tempted to glance at your watch occasionally.  Soderbergh and co. keep things zipping along at a nice jaunt so even though you can see the finish line halfway through the race, you still are involved enough to stick with it.